Carole, a friend, works in mental health. She has several siblings, some on the right, some on the left. When her family’s together, Carole functions as referee to keep them from each other’s throats. It’s almost like the Civil War: sibling against sibling, parent against child.

War begins with differing viewpoints that escalate. Hatred wells up blindly, sometimes from a misperception or simple mistake. It manifests in road rage, for example, as we, assuming the worst, attribute motives to those who “cut us off.”

We should be able to control our animal instincts with the God-given rational faculty that elevates humans above those instincts. Instead we find it easier to honk, gesture rudely and maybe even blow someone away with that firearm lying on the seat.

Multiple mass shootings within days, sometimes hours, of each other have exacerbated a climate of hopeless fear. Human relationships seem increasingly fragmented.

Why? What drives us to such extremes?

Last August, two complementary letters to the editor suggested ways to create a better world. One writer began with media accounts of “murders in our land,” then asked, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were no murder? Ever?” Then poignantly, “What agenda do those against the Ten Commandments have?”

He observed that, although laws against murder exist, such “external” laws never really work. What if, he asked, each of us actually followed those Ten Commandments in our lives. What a wonderful world we’d live in.

The second letter, “Mind the mind, always,” was more of a personal journey down a similar path. The author described how she overcame fear to accomplish an “impossible” task. Her last paragraph suggests a solution for problems described in the first letter.

“We can change our thinking, opinions, that block our journey,” she wrote. “We can change our lives by changing our thinking!” She concluded by encouraging readers to “mind the mind – always.”

We’ve just entered the holiday season, observed throughout the world as we approach the nativity of Christ. In the U.S., it starts with remembering our Pilgrim founders at Thanksgiving. But Christmas and gift-giving is really inaugurated, ironically, by “Black Friday.” Let the buying begin. He who has the gold makes the rules.

Those letters last August suggested that we can change this. We make daily decisions about how to think, how to behave. What criteria do we use to make those choices? The Ten Commandments can be encapsulated in a single principle that embraces religion and philosophy: treating others as we wish to be treated.

A 19th century version by Baha’u’llah (the founder of the Baha’i Faith) states: “Wish not for others what ye wish not for yourselves.” Variations of this “Golden Rule” date back millennia throughout religious and secular teachings. It appears prominently in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism and as far back as the Code of Hammurabi (1754-1790 BC). Some form can be found in almost every ethical tradition.

What if we were able to employ this single criterion to change our thinking, to guide our lives during this season of reflection – and beyond? We could concentrate on service as promulgated by Christ: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Imagine a civilization in which all tried to follow this simple aphorism. We have free will and a rational faculty that separates us from other animals. We can choose to exercise both responsibly.

Pete Haug’s eclectic interests and several careers drew him across the U.S. and into China with his wife, and sometimes draconian editor, Jolie. They retired south of Colfax. You can reach him at peterlaoshi@gmail.com.

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